Saturday, March 13, 2021

Book Review: Last Star Standing by Spaulding Taylor

Character-Driven Post-Apocalyptic Fiction with a Timeless Theme

The Last Star Standing is set on post-apocalyptic earth … although, without a few references to places like Australia, it can be hard to tell. That’s because its cast of characters prominently features non-humans—a ruthless race of conquering aliens, their imported, brutish servants, robots, giant sea creatures, and so on. The humans, when they appear, are often augmented, including our protagonist, Aiden Tenten. And when not enhanced with technology, they are often depicted only as overheard comments in crowd scenes. The result is an earth that feels otherworldly.

The story has a character-driven element, although the starting point in the transformation of our hero is a bit unclear. On one hand, Aiden is insecure about … well, almost everything from his abandonment by his mother as a child to when he was picked for sports at school to his current-day relationships with women. As a result, reputation is everything to him and he’s reckless in his pursuit of fame. But at the same time, he is described as having a messiah complex, a belief that he is destined to save the world. It seems a strange mix of destiny-calling while dealing with imagined slights, but that’s Aiden. As to where his character ends up? Well, that might be too much of a spoiler, but it’s a significant shift.

At a very high level, the plot is based on a well-worn theme as undermanned humans mount a rebellion against their ruthless overlords. To counter the threat, Aiden gathers a band of misfits with conveniently appropriate skills and powers (of course). While the battle between the evil empire and the out-gunned rebels is the general drift, fully the first half of the book does little to advance this plot. Aiden is being held captive, recalling some of his life and his missions. The intent is probably world-building and character development, but it feels somewhat meandering. In the second half, the focus is much clearer, allowing the plot to advance more smoothly (and with greater suspense and intrigue).

The prose is solid, as you might expect from an author with a background as a ghostwriter. One element of his style, however, deserves mention. He frequently inserts two or more distinct thoughts into single sentences with each new idea set off with dashes.  My cost was crippling – for I remained in rude health despite my birth mother’s best efforts – but Duncan Tenten had old-fashioned notions about his ‘line’– the irony being that most lines ended between WWIII and the invasion anyway.” This kind of interposition of ideas can make the text more interesting in moderation, but it can become tiring when overused. And it was, for my tastes.

Overall, the otherworldly feel of post-apocalyptic earth is well developed. And Aiden, as a damaged hero leading a vastly outgunned rebel force, is timeless and well worth the read.

I was given a copy of the book by the author. I elected to write this candid review.

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